What Do You Do?

Blogger: Steve Riojas, Director of Education, Science and Tech | San Francisco, CA, USA
January 02, 2013

First was his father, who died too young at age 72, a massive heart attack undeniably inspired by Type-II diabetes diagnosed 20 years earlier. Not long after, his oldest sibling died of unnatural causes at age 52, a complex man struggling to put it all together after an early career in the United States Marines. Then his only sister died at age 58 of a brain tumor—one month before Senator Kennedy died of the very same cancer. She stuffed a lifetime of straight talk into 15 fleeting months. His mother, now age 82, wonders how she could have possibly survived not only her husband but her first two children. If it weren’t for a strong personal faith, she’d be shamelessly bitter.

At a recent cocktail reception, he fielded the standard question—“What do you do?” It instantly exhumed suppressed memories in a collision of conflicted emotions. Spontaneously, he bypassed the normal response, the one always given, in favor of something more direct.

“We design research buildings. The best thing is that the scientists in these facilities work on solving the world’s most challenging problems, those related to human imperatives—food, water, health, safety, energy. Simply, we make a small contribution to sustaining life.” 

He felt a sort of cleansing in his answer—pure, whole, satisfied—even noble.

Most of us have loved ones that passed through this world before their time, faced with unexpected physical or emotional change. What can be more fulfilling than to “pay it forward” to mankind, to the planet? We can certainly influence more favorable outcomes to human challenges.

He was recently listening to a backlog of CDs accumulated over a collection of years. A lasting favorite, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks cycled into random-play mode. “If You See Her, Say Hello” (Track 8) emerged. Sinking back into his soft armchair, he reflected on the gloomy day he struggled though reciting those lyrics at his brother’s funeral. He simultaneously cried and smiled in a contorted mixture of sensations—rescued by thoughts of how his work would surely enable someone else’s brother to survive another day, another week, perhaps many years.

What do you do?

Image courtesy of Steve Riojas

Reader Comments (5)

What an incredibly moving post. This is why what we do matters and why I'm so proud to work at HDR, even though I don't have a direct hand in designing buildings for research or healing. I have also lost family members and friends too young and hope you and HDR have a hand in helping others stay longer. I also hope your chosen profession brings you some measure of comfort.

This was an excellent post.  Thanks for the nice read.

Thanks for sharing!!!   Profound words indeed!  I too am very proud to be part of such a critical program that helps in some small way to find cures and alleviate human suffering.  I think back on those I've lost who might have been helped and my disabled grand-daughter who might one day be able to walk with yet to be found discoveries!  HDR S&T rocks!

Steve, Thank you so much for this deep and moving post. I lost my mom in 2008 only months after I started at HDR, and then my dad less than a year and a half later. Not only did HDR allow me to take a much needed sabbatical in Winter 2009, but they also dedicated the planting of a grove of trees for each of my parents. That thoughtfulness towards our own is also woven inside our care for others, and the importance of the work we do in the world. My parents mortality helped make crystal clear just how precious life is, reminding me why I do what I do. I am proud to be a part of furthering sustainability in the company and in our projects for research and healing. I am proud to help shape healthier buildings and ultimately healthier people. Here's to a long, abundant, and healthy life, so that we can continue our great design work for years to come. Happy New Year!

What a terrific, heartfelt and moving post.  I enjoyed it very much, very inspirational.

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